What have we done this year?
Let me tell you, the last 12 months here at PlusNet Towers have absolutely flown by and that’s down in no small reason to how busy that we’ve all been! There’s been our acquisition by BT Retail, awards, football tournaments, additional capacity, floods in Sheffield (!), an Open Day, the launch of our Community Site and much, much more! Every year we share our plans for the year with our customers. These will take into account our Product Roadmap, plans for the Customer Support Centre along with various initiatives and developments to our existing systems that we plan to make over the course of the 12 months. Let's start by looking at the progress we have made against the plans that we set out in January. What did we say we would do? - Broadband Network Capacity [Green] Back in August we posted an updated version of our Broadband Blueprint, detailing how we plan for and design our Broadband products, notably Broadband Your Way, which was introduced in April. More on that later. Over the course of the year, we’ve added 7 155Mbps segments to our existing Central Capacity. That’s an additional 1085Mbps extra bandwidth that we’ve adding in line with our customer growth, ensuring that every one of our customers is getting a fair deal on their product. Dave Tomlinson has also moved to a new role with the Products Team and part of this is posting in his Traffic Management Blog where he highlights a number of areas to do with download behaviours, areas which can affect our use of Traffic Management and so on. - Email [Amber] Email has been one of the more problematic areas of our service provision over the last 18 months. Last year, customers will remember a number of outages affecting their ability to retrieve their email and long email queues. Since the tail end of last year and throughout this, we’ve been working tirelessly to improve the level of service that our customers receive with regards to our email service. So, what have we done? We’ve moved to a completely new Mail storage platform. We’ve spent countless hours battling the spam problems that are a real problem for other ISPs, including announcing a partnership with Postini as part of the battle against spam. In May, disaster struck. We were hit by a malicious attack, which compromised addressing details for our customers who used our webmail platform. Ever since then, we’ve been working with a number of suppliers (Critical Path, Ironport, Postini to name a few) to help to reduce the amount of spam that our customers have experienced as a result of this. Because of the continued spam problem, despite the level of stability that our customers have seen on our email platform, email status remains as amber. - Customer Support [Green] Improving the standards in our Customer Support Centre was one of our key drives for 2007. We’re happy to say that we’ve seen massive improvements in Customer Support as a result of a continued heavy recruitment drive. Call and ticket waiting times have improved drastically and we’ve won a number of awards over the course of the year. As well as being nominated in the PC Pro and Mac Awards, we were also awarded the Best Broadband Provider by uSwitch, Custom PC and Computer Shopper, not to mention winning the ISPA Football Tournament! We’ve also continued to run our Customer Satisfaction Survey. In April this year, we switched to a new format, showing levels of customer satisfaction in 7 categories (previously we used 4) so unfortunately I can’t give you a comparison to last years results, however, we’ve seen a continual improvement in the proportion of our customers who are either “very satisfied” or “extremely satisfied with the level of service that they have been receiving. New Products: - BT Home Hub [Amber] We have experienced issues with being able to release a version of the Home Hub which is not locked to only BT customers. We expect to be able to confirm further timescales early in the New Year. - BT Fusion [Red] At present we have no expected delivery date and we are continuing to investigate the most appropriate way to offer this or a similar service to our customers. - BT Vision [Red] Again, we currently have no expected delivery date and no firm plans for implementation of BT Vision. We are investigating an alternative Set-top box, which combines Freeview and a streaming IPTV solution, but there are no confirmed details at this point. - PlusTalk [Amber] Whilst performance on PlusTalk has improved over the course of the year, it is still not delivering the continued level of service that we would like. As such, we have recently announced a trial with Gradwell, who supply a VoIP service which we are currently trialling. - Web Hosting [Amber] We have developed a new web hosting platform for our sister companies Just the Name and Pay as you Host which is based on the industry standard ‘Plesk’ software. The most appropriate way to provide this same improvement to PlusNet customers is still being discussed. We are also continuing to look at other third party solutions to see if a partnership, as with Gradwell and Postini, can help to offer a further improved customer experience. Customer Communications & Promotions: - Transparency [Green] We believe that our Transparency is one of the things that helps to separate us from other ISPs. Our Customers will be aware of our Service Status messaging, Policies on the Portal, Priority Problems on the Portal and various other initiatives in our Community Site, but what have we delivered this year? We’ve added more Policies on the Portal, we’re kept customers aware of service affecting problems both via our Problems on the Portal and Service Status. We’ll see a large number of improvements to our Community Site next year, but I’ll touch on that later. - Community Support Site [Green] On April 5th, we proudly launched our new Community Site Beta to bring together all customers of Metronet, PlusNet, Force9 and Free-Online to contribute to our new forums (previously only available on each vISP) and view our news, views, blogs and polls. The Community Site subsequently went Live on July 27th and has proved extremely popular with a number of our customers. Whilst our forums are undoubtedly the most popular area of the site, our daily “End of Day” updates which are contributed to from various departments of PlusNet to keep everyone involved in what’s been going on at PlusNet Towers, are also eagerly awaited for. - You Stay We Pay [Green] As promised, we removed You Stay We Pay for existing and new customers. We now offer deferred activation and hardware contracts, which expire after 12 months. - Open Day [Green] We had an extremely successful open Day earlier this year and are looking forward to having further ones in 2008 - more details on this as soon as they become available! So, that basically covers everything that we set out to do at the start of the year. As you can see, we’ve managed to hit some areas easily, whereas some have suffered complications and have meant that they haven’t been possible. This isn’t necessarily a failure as we’ve been doing a lot of other things over the course of the year. But what are they? A logical starting point would have to be talking of the BT purchase of PlusNet. On January 24th, 2007, BT successfully completed their acquisition of PlusNet PLC. They did this to take advantage of our backend “Workplace” systems and our reputation for providing a quality broadband service. Since the point of acquisition, they have invested heavily into us, allowing us to make a varied number of improvements into our network and personnel infrastructure. In April, we successfully launched our new line of Broadband Products, Broadband Your Way. Broadband Your Way (or BBYW) is the first phase of our creating a line of products which offers our customers control of how much they pay and how much they use. BBYW replaced our (now legacy) Premier, Plus and PAYG products, reflecting more effectively how we are charged by BT and incorporating future planned pricing changes by BT Wholesale. Subsequently, we completed our fifth variant of the Broadband Your Way range with the addition of Pro. Pro offers the perfect platform for our Gaming Community as well as for those who are prepared to pay a little extra to ensure that their downloads come down at the fastest rate that our Network will allow. Also in April, our Community Site went to Beta. As I mentioned earlier, this consolidated the forums for our PlusNet, Metronet, Force9 and Free-Online customers. It also contains Polls, Blogs and various news both about PlusNet and about the IT industry itself. Fairly shortly after this, Sheffield got hit by a 24 hour torrential downpour which flooded extensive parts of our neighbourhoo... (although fortunately not this building!). We used the Community Site to allow a number of staff and customers to share their photos and comments about the troubles that they had just trying to get anywhere! You can also see what we have planned for the Community Site over the next few months. We’ve certainly got lots of ideas! In June we launched a Polish version of our website. There’s roughly a million Polish people living in the UK and a number of our Polish staff got together and thought, “I can’t think of a broadband supplier who has any Polish sections on their websites”. So, in their free time, they wrote a Polish section for our Polish speaking customers! In June we also made a massive change to how we reward our Referrers for recommending new customers to ourselves. Whereas previously, they would see a discount on their invoices depending on how many people they had referred, from July, we started to offer a Referral Bounty payment of up to £25 in addition to their monthly credits. Since then we amended this offer to allow referrers to receive a payment of upto £30 when they recommend someone to signup to both our Broadband and Home Phone services. In August, we completed the outsourcing of our Usenet platform to Supernews. Supernews are a well-renowned outfit in dealing with Usenet and it made perfect sense to use an expert supplier for our newsgroup provision. In October, to help celebrate the launch of our Broadband Your Way Pro product, we held our first ever LAN Gaming Party. This saw both customers and non-customers coming to PlusNet towers to take part in a variety of competitions, with prizes being awarded to the best teams. One lucky gamer even won a years free subscription for BBYW Pro! Only this month, we finished the opening phase of what was probably the largest project in the history of PlusNet. Back in July BT Retail bought Brightview, of which Madasafish is part of. BT then asked us to incorporate Madasafish into our Workplace platform. After three months and a hell of a large number of overtime hours (our Head of QA worked 350 hours in November) we finished rolling out this project. This saw every aspect of the business coming together, demonstrating fantastic team work and a desire to achieve our goals. Over the second half of this year, we’ve been busy setting up a Remote Development Team out in India. These guys are able to help us with a number of pieces of Development work, ensuring that we’re able to deliver in a more efficient fashion. They just finished working on their first project, a revamp of our internal diary systems. We’ll definitely see some other projects in early 2008 being completed with the help of those guys. Well, that’s pretty much it. As I said initially, it’s been an incredibly busy year and none of us have any doubt that 2008 will be just as busy and we all believe that it’s going to be even better than 2007. We can’t wait to get back in the New Year. Please do feel free to comment on this post, letting us know of any feedback you may have, or what you would like us to do next year. Keep your eyes peeled for my “Plans for 2008” post in January! See you then James
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